BERLIN – China is far removed from the Syria conflict, at least geographically: The flight distance between Beijing and Damascus is 6,900 km, and unlike the European Union, China will not be confronted with an influx of refugees from the war-torn country. Nevertheless, Beijing has started to actively engage with both the Syrian government and opposition leaders in an apparent effort to mediate the conflict. The reasons for China’s new approach are a mix of geostrategic interests and the desire to be seen as an influential actor on the stage of global diplomacy.
Starting this past week, representatives of the Syrian government and opposition groups began to meet in Geneva in yet another attempt to find a solution to the four-year long civil war — and unlike in the past, the Chinese government actively participated in the pre-summit diplomacy. On Dec. 24, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem in Beijing. Shortly thereafter Khaled Khoja, the president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, arrived on Jan. 5 for a multi-day visit.